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following footsteps

oana stupariu for isolacinema.org

apitchatpong 'joe' weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul - winner in Cannes, a guest in Izola

Apichatpong Weerasethakul represents a new wave of directors enriched by the wonders of progress and ways of easy reaching to the ideas that one belives in. Born in 1970, in Bankok, Thailand, with each of his films, Apichatpong Weerasethakul mixes fact anf fiction in building identities for its characters even if reality presented is not always linear as life itself keeps its surprises. Abstract and fragmented, his latest film Blissfully Yours, made in 2001, is either a real or an acted one. The answer is not quite important, but seeing the film is. Shown in Cannes, Apichatpong Weerasethakul`s first feature film is a revelation concerning the narrative structure by varying banal dialogues shatered in a time dilluation.

Blissfully Yours is the story of Burmese refugees, a deeply affected community by the nationwide atrategy of Thai athorities to crackdown immigration. Many of those people escaped a poor life with the hope of a better future. Hidden emotional conflicts and the difference in mentalities produce the plot of the film that also approach the psychological tensions indulged by the protagonists. Poverty, immigration are subjects common in entire world and the collaps of different regimes, the transition are rulling people’s lifes and goals. But how many of us decide to remain blissfully ignorant?

How important is for you to show your work in a film festival focused on third world cinema?

It`s very important because my kind of film is very personal, so usually has a limited audience. And Thailand is very small, it`s the size of Texas and I think the ratio of the audience is very important. Festivals are like a venue for me to show my ideas to the audience because I made film for myself, but I also belive that there are a lot of people similar to me in the world. So, I view the world as a big village with many, many houses, so it`s like I go to those many, many houses to show what I`ve done. It`s very important because my films are not commercial and festivals are one of the few options I have.

So you are aware about the mondialisation concept. But don`t you think that this process will affect national traditions and orginallity?

Actually, it becomes even better. You see I grew up in a small town in Thailand. I was born in Bankok, but I grew up in a small town. I lived in Chicago for four years and it happened that in Chicago I knew more about Thailand from a different perspective. It`s the same think in terms of festivals. It made me realize more about my country, my film, what is the place of Thai film in the world cinema, so I think it`s contrary from loosing originallity or identity, it`s the opposite.

You say that your films are Thai to all those that say that they are influenced by European style. Is it hard for you to approach different social, cultural environments?

At first it was hard for me in Chicago and I didn`t even know how to use a computer, I had to learn very fast to adapt and I enjoyed that. I think for me film is one of the language I speak, so in different cultures it`s no longer a barrier when you make something that speaks for you.

Now you`ve been around to different film festivals. Did you feel that Cannes this year is going to be different or it was just a little bit different from your first time there?

Cannes is special. First time I was there in 2002 I was afraid because it was the first big venue, it has a commercial size and an artistical sized combined and there is a combination of critics from all over the world. It has a sense of mixture of feelings about how they would receive my film, anyway it was a feeling that I could not help and it wouldn`t change my film. So, it`s something that makes me even work harder to look into myself and do something that I belive in rather to please others. You see, Cannes it`s about seeing the works of others. But for me I have to do what I belive in.

What was the departure point, the inspiration from what you created Blissfully Yours?

Mm, it`s hard to say, because I`ve always wanted to make this kind of apreciation of the sun. I think also that because of the budget, because we didn`t have so much money, the limitation help us to focus to do only what was neccesary. The Thai authorities don`t support film, so this also created tension that we had to fight. This kind of things created Blissfully Yours.

In the future we`ll continue to be so involved in your films, writings, imaging, editing?

Of course. I think film is something very free, I think there will be many ways to make a film, a collaboration with writers, actors and with the landscape. I`m also involved in video art and I
work with a script written by another person and I put common villagers to interpret it. For me, there are many ways for making film.

In your films, sounds and image became important characters. What drive you to this kind of artistic vision?

I`m not sure how to answer. At one point, about two, three years ago I`ve stopped listen to music. Of course, I was listening sometimes for fun or I bought lot of CDs as a teenagers. But at a certain point it became too much and I don`t know how it happened. In Thailand is very noisy, that`s way I appreciate nature so much, the sound of the mountain. I stop listen to music and I payed much more attention to ambient. Also, Thai cinema is very delicate dealing with natural sounds. Abbas Kiarostami, the Iranian director, influenced me a lot in how I approach sound and also because I was trained not as a director, but as a filmaker in Chicago, so I do everything in sound, imaging and processing. I`m also a sound technician, so I approach it technically as well as artisticly.

After winning an important prize as the Special Jury Award in Cannes what in the near future for you?

I want to make a commedy. I`ve made one already in which the women`s character is played by a men. It was directly made for video, but after the succes of Tropical Malady, the producer decided to launch both film but it`s good quality. For the one, I`d like to make a Thai musical, a kind of film that I grow up with but making it more modern and in my style. It will be relaxing.

What about Hollywood? Would you work there if asked?

No way. No. You see my film and especially Blissfully Yours, afer two minutes they will leave. From the reaction of critics I know they are opposite to my style and I think Hollywood it`s another world and it would be very hard for me to fit in.

You were talking about how hard is to make film in Thailand. Tell me some about those problems?

In Thailand we have a studio system where the studios control the theatres so if you make a film independently, you have no place to show it. Years ago, the governement started to support this program that includes films, music and books. I became a part of the movie section, so we are trying to found a cinemateque, a library to show all kind of different things. This is our plan.

With such an international recognition received in Cannes, we hope that Apichatpong Weerasethakul will receive the help he needs. Even if money still avoids some of the most important projects, with passion and true vocation all difficulties seem all too little to stop making a film. It is a repeted mistake that good films don`t receive easily support, but when beauty and artistic and cultural value had something to do with earthly trade currencies?

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